Bartending in Nola
Location: New Orleans
Meal: Homemade biscuits
Music: “Someday You Will be Loved” by Deathcab for Cutie
I woke up in my white French pressed sheets, sweating. The women on my road trip were becoming intertwined with my past and invading my dreams.
I groggily got up and headed for the shower, trying to cleanse myself of the swirling thoughts. But the thoughts were not done with me. Voices spoke to me from the silver showerhead. The cascading water turned into skeletal hands that stretched down to encase my body, cradling it with dread. “We know what you let happen….” echoed the water against the porcelain tub. “We saw the parts that you blacked out…” “We heard…”
And I cranked the faucet to the right, leapt out of the bath, small soap bubbles still gliding down my skin. I hastily threw on clothes, grabbed my running shoes and bolted outside, running through the quarter with no direction in mind. There was no point in remembering now.
The sun was just starting to cover the city with its warm glow. A nightly downpour had wiped the streets clean of the night’s refuge and New Orleans seemed almost pristine with its flowerpot balconies, French shutters and beignet shops.
Refreshed with the dawn of a new day, I returned to Shonda’s bar, my home away from home. She greeted me with a hearty smile. “Well hello there Heidi—how did the hooker hunting go?” I told her my story. “Really?” she said. “The girl wanted to….” She shook her head “Well it is New Orleans. I have seen so much stuff I do not even know what’s normal anymore.”
Shonda had been working for 15 years in the Quarter and had seen things happen on the outdoor patio of her bar that made a Mexican donkey show look tame. “It’s always at Mardi Gras. People turn into animals. And you know what? They think WE are the messed up ones. ‘Oh you Nola folk are dirty’ But it ain’t us!! It’s them!!”
Shonda had thought before of working in a more ‘civil’ establishment outside of the quarter in a regulated white collar casino. “But then you cannot do what you want. Damn, but if they don’t have cameras everywhere! I can’t just pour you a Makers on the house, or engage too long in conversations. In fact with those cameras I’d be afraid to pick my underwear out of my own butt!” Shonda sighed. For the time being she had resigned herself to the daily carnival of a Bourbon Street bar.
When I asked Shonda about the men in her life she shook her head. “Oh, I’m done. I’m through. Tired of the games and the promises.”
Shonda’s love life had a challenging past. On paper, our jubilant Shonda could be stereotyped as another African American single mother statistic, with two different children by two different men. However, I am learning there is a reason to everything and sometimes life moves too quickly and out of our control.
Shonda grew up in a loving home with ample funds for education and dreams. However, Shonda got pregnant at age 18 making her question her ability to enter a university right away. Although the father of her child loved her and was ready for marriage, she wasn’t ready to commit.
“I was 18. I hadn’t done anything in life. I hadn’t dated anyone one else. I hadn’t even had a drink!”
And Shonda decided to raise her daughter and explore her life on her own terms. “Oh he kept waiting for me though. He told me he’d marry me when I was ready. He bought a big fat ol’ ring, a real nice one from Zalers, and made payments against it every month. It was paid off right before he died.”
And Shonda’s jubilant voice grew quiet, her eyes full of sorrow. The father of Shonda’s daughter was tragically killed in a car crash before Shonda had returned to him.
“It messed me up bad.”
But in life how do we really know when others will leave us? And if we had hindsight would we really make different decisions?
“But he changed. Oh man, did he change after we married. He got so angry with me all the time. He’d sneak out and blame me. We had terrible communication.”
Two and a half years later Shonda asked for a divorce.
“I couldn’t stay in that. There was nothing to try for.” Shonda had no tolerance for men that treated her poorly.
Perhaps there is the right man out there, but until he appears Shonda has decided to focus on herself. “I am planning on going back to school to get my degree,” she said. “I dropped out of college earlier because I had a kid, and let’s face it, I was kind of lazy. It was hard, bar tending was easy. But now I really want that university certificate. I am ready. I really want to do something different with my life.” Shonda is ready to put the donkey shows behind her and has aspirations of getting a degree in hospitality management. With her determination, passion for people, and award winning smile I do not doubt she will be successful.